Madras Lentils is a delicious and satisfying vegetarian dish from Northern India. Full of bold flavors from ginger, cumin, chili powder, and more, this plant-based dish is easy to make and perfect for weeknights!
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What Are Madras Lentils
Madras Lentils are a less-spicy version of Dal Makhani—a North Indian (Punjabi) lentil and kidney bean curry. The lentils and beans are most often simmered in a creamy, spiced tomato sauce. Our version is a little less creamy than Dal Makhani, and uses a different type of lentil to make the dish more accessible.
Why This Recipe Works
We’ve taken creative liberties with this recipe for Madras Lentils. We took some notes from both Dal Maharani and Dal Makhani, and this Indian-inspired recipe is a compilation of the three recipe relatives.
Most often, madras lentils are made with kidney beans and black glam or whole urad dal. For this recipe we opted to use black beluga lentils because they don’t require soaking before cooking and can be easier to find (depending on where you are). You can of course use black glam/whole urad, just be sure to soak the dry lentils 8 hours before using.
Occasionally, we like to add red bell pepper, like we did here. It’s not traditional and can absolutely be left out. Additionally, we do not call for adding jalapeño or Serrano, both would be a wonderful addition and, if using, should be added with the onions.
And finally, many recipes for Madras Lentils call for half-and-half, cream, or coconut milk. The addition of cream of milk adds silkiness and richness—we find it muddles the flavors so we usually leave it out. If you want that added creaminess, add splash or two at the end of cooking or drizzle over individual servings.
Madras Lentils vs Dal Maharani vs Dal Makhani
Madras Lentils, Dal Maharani and Dal Makhani are close relatives to each other, sharing similar ingredients and cooking methods, they differ mostly in decadence and/or ingredient ratios.
Simplifying the differences in these dishes is not an easy task, but on the most basic level—Dal Maharani hails from Northern India and is most often a home-cooked dish, with slight variations from cook to cook.
Dal Makhani is the restaurant version of Dal Maharani, featuring more cream and butter, making it decadent and creamy.
And finally, Madras Lentils is an Americanized version of Dal Maharani which is slightly creamier in texture and often, though not always, features added cream. The popularity of madras lentils is largely credited to the convenient Tasty Madras Lentils pouch—an Indian spiced chili essentially.
How to Make Madras Lentils
A one-pot dish, this recipe comes together in an hour and requires very little hands-on time. Here’s how to make Madras Lentils on the stove-top.
- Cook onion, pepper, ginger, and garlic in butter (or oil) until softened.
- Add tomato paste and spices and cook 1 minute.
- Stir in broth and lentils, bring to a simmer, decrease heat, partially cover and cook until lentils are tender.
- Stir in beans, vinegar, and honey; season with salt and pepper and serve.
- Optional: top Madras Lentils with cilantro and half-and-half or coconut milk.
What to Serve Madras Lentils With
- Our homemade Naan is perfect for scooping up the flavorful lentils.
- Make it a full meal with our go-to Cilantro Lime Rice.
- For even more veggies, serve these lentils with our Cauliflower Rice.
- Add some animal protein with our Chicken Skewers.
More Lentil Recipes to Try
- Our Vegetarian Instant Pot Chili is loaded with flavors and textures—even the carnivore will love this one!
- These Mushroom Veggie Burgers are truly the ultimate plant-based burg.
- Use leftover cooked lentils to make these Lentil Stuffed Mushrooms. They are an ideal appetizer for any kind of get-together.
- Enjoy a healthy and satisfying lunch with this French Lentil Salad with Salmon.
- Our Fresh and Crunchy French Lentil Salad is a meal prep hero. Full of nutrition, textures and flavors, you’ve gotta try this recipe!
- Looking for a quick dinner? Try our Quick Curried Chicken Lentil Soup that’s apart of the SOUP-er Simple Series.
Add a minced Serrano or two with the onion. For a more mild spice, add a jalapeño.
Absolutely, use vegan butter or olive oil in place of the butter and use sugar instead of honey.
Yes, you can use brown or green lentils instead of black beluga lentils. Keep an eye on them towards the end of cooking, they will likely need 10 to 15 minutes less cook time than specified in the recipe. Do not use red lentils.
Watch How to Make Madras Lentils
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped (about 1 ½ cups)
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped (optional)
- 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon garam masala optional
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 cup dry black beluga lentils
- 1 (14-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons honey
- Cilantro, canned coconut milk, naan bread and/or rice for serving
- Melt butter in a large pot or Dutch oven or medium-high heat. Add onion, pepper, ginger and garlic; cook until vegetables are softened, 4–6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in tomato paste, chili powder, garam masala, cumin, salt, paprika, and red pepper flakes; cook 1 minute.
- Stir in broth and lentils, increase heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes.
- Stir in beans, vinegar, and honey; season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve lentils over rice or with naan bread, top with cilantro and a drizzle of coconut milk or half-and-half, if using.
- Store lentils in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Lentils are a staple in our house and we adore this recipe!
Thanks Tawnie! I’m glad you enjoy the recipe!
My first lentil experience: A++! Just the right amount of spice and great texture. Gonna make some great leftover lunches this week.
Yay!! I love hearing that. Lentils still surprise me every time I make them—they cook quickly and are so versatile. So glad you enjoyed the recipe! 🙂 Plus, the leftovers could easily be made into a soup with a bit of broth!
awesome recipe…I added mung beans too
Love the idea of adding mung beans—I will do that the next time I make these!
Ok, this is now in perhaps my top 5 for side dishes. The depth of flavor, with jalapeño is addictive. Made for dinner last night and with scrambled eggs for breakfast today. Thanks for sharing. Game changing!
Hi Tom, I’m over the moon to hear this is a top 5 side dish recipe! LOVE the idea of serving this with scrambled eggs for breakfast—I’ll be trying that!
This looks so delicious. I am sure it will join my soup repertoire
Delicious! I made this without onion and garlic. Used garlic infused oil, chives and celery. I also roasted pepper before adding it. I used cooked, packaged lentil do not as much broth.
Where did you get the sodium content?
I love this recipe & keep making it over & over.
I do usually add a can of crushed tomatoes just to enhance that flavor.